When people think of networking, one of two ideas typically come to mind. The first is a person trying too hard to collect names and business cards at a busy event. The second is a businessman who only needs to pick up the phone and call a friend to get the information he needs.
When you are younger and just starting out in your career, neither of these pictures is appealing or realistic. If you try to be like the first person and collect business cards, you are not going to get much benefit from the “network” you are building and you will turn many people off with your tactics. And if you try to be like the businessman when you first start networking, you just will not have the number or quality of contacts needed to make those phone calls.
So what do you do if you want to start building a career network as a young person? That is what this career networking for youth article is for. We are going to start with the basics (like what is networking) and work up to how to find contacts and how to gain value from your network. This is a long post so pin it or save it for reference later on.
In the end, we are hoping you will have the knowledge and confidence to start your career networking. If you want a little more guidance in the process, we invite you to participate in our FREE email course which gives you action steps and check-ins along the way. For now, let’s jump into the article!
What is career networking for youth?
Career networking is the process of building and maintaining relationships of mutual support. Career networking for youth is starting this process while you are young so you have an even stronger network as you age. While the entire network does not have to revolve around your career, networks play a big part in allowing you to learn about career options, gain career advice, and even get job opportunities. The support you and your contacts can share within a career network can include advice, information, emotional support, referrals, brainstorming sessions, and much more.
In order to get started and get moving on your career path, you will likely need advice, information, and ideas. A great way to do this is by engaging your network along the way. Your career network can also help keep you motivated and positive when things go wrong. This emotional connection is often overlooked when people think of networking but it is one of the most impactful parts. Finally, while it should not be the main reason you start networking, there is a chance to get job opportunities through your career network. All of these reasons combined are still only a fraction of the reasons you should start your network now.
Now let’s move away from the basic questions and start telling you how to build your career network.
Start with Goals
Stick with me here. I know goals seem very overdone right now but when it comes to networking, you really do need them. Without a networking goal, you will not know who to contact, why to contact them, or even when to reach out! Instead, you will have an overwhelming list of unrelated names and no plan for how to actually keep in touch or get any of those positive outcomes we talked about earlier. A goal allows you to refine who you need to talk to in order to meet your goal, who you need to prioritize when it comes to frequency of contact and allows you to keep a smaller, more manageable list of names.
With that out of the way, decide WHY you want to network. Consider the benefits we listed in the “Why Network?” section and see if any of those are what you need right now. Or come up with your own goal. Are you looking for career ideas and inspiration? Do you want some advice on the career you are pursuing? Are you looking for a job? How about getting advice on “adulting”?
Pick just one goal for now. The goal you choose will be constantly changing as you progress in your career so you can and should revise it frequently (at least twice a year). And as your goal changes, how you use your career network will change along with it.
Now that you have a goal, you need to find people to network with who can help you achieve it. Start off easy by listing the names of some of your family and friends (you can track them in our template). Talk to each of them at least once to learn more about them and see if they can help with your goal. Yes, it is okay to tell them what your goal is, just don’t write them out of your life if they cannot help. Instead, those who help should be marked as a primary contact in your network and the rest can go to the remaining categories.
With the easy names out of the way, it is time to think bigger! Start listing the names of colleagues, superiors, teachers, classmates, etc. While not all of them can help you with your goal today, you need to build the relationships now so you can call on them in the future. It also allows them to more easily find you if they need your help someday! Similar to your friends and family, reach out and categorize your contacts by who can help you reach your goal.
From here, allow your network to naturally grow. Meet someone new? Add them, start building the relationship, and categorize them as needed. Did someone in your network mention someone who might be of help? Ask them to connect the two of you and build from there. Recommendations like that are how career networks really grow to something amazing. In fact, when your network starts to grow through referrals and recommendations, it will start to resemble the businessman’s network from the beginning of this article.
“Be nice to everyone.” To be honest, that is not always realistic. If there is someone that you really do not get along with, leave them off your networking list. Be nice if they reach out to you but don’t force yourself to reach out to them.
Set-up for Success
As we have mentioned already, keeping track of your contacts will keep things more organized and less overwhelming so you can meet your goal. While we provided a simple tracking template, you can make one for yourself that is as simple or complex as you like. Just make sure that it is not so complicated that you dread using it, that is one quick way to break your networking habit!
You can also use LinkedIn or other apps to keep track of your career network. LinkedIn is great because is a meant to be a networking tool. With it, you can see quick updates about people’s careers and update them on yours. You can send messages right through LinkedIn messaging instead of emails or calls. And you can even see the contacts of your contacts. If you are looking for specific advice or information and no one in your network can help, sometimes you will see one of their contacts have the expertise you are looking for. Then all you need to do is ask if your contact will introduce you!
So no matter what system (or systems) you want to use to set yourself up for networking success, just get it done.
Now that you know who to contact and for what reason, you have to actually start reaching out to them! While keeping in touch with your network may seem intimidating, remember that these are people you have relationships with and they want to hear from you. From your family and friends to your colleagues and superiors, almost everyone in your career network wants to help you navigate your career.
When it comes to the method of communication, there are many options available but it is best to use a method that the contact prefers and one that allows you both to share high-value information. For instance, reaching out to someone on social media is quick and easy but it tends to be harder to have a deep conversation. An email or phone call other the other hand is still quite easy and allows for a more engaging conversation. And if you want to add some emotion or a personal touch, consider sending a letter or card by mail. It is always a treat to open “snail mail” now that the world is increasingly online.
Of course, the best way to connect with someone in your career network is to meet face-to-face. An in-person meeting is more personal, allows for free-flowing conversation, and deep conversations so when you walk out of the meeting, both of you know each other better than you went in and have new knowledge from the talk.
The Big Question: Frequency
One of the biggest questions people have when it comes to career networking for youth (or anyone) is “How often should I contact people in my network?” As with many of the big questions in life, there is no easy answer here but we do have some advice for you: Make it a habit. Whether you reach out to one person a day, or three people every Friday, or meet with one person each month, make it a habit. Create a manageable routine where you reach out to the contacts in your network (focusing on the primary contacts first) on a regular basis.
The actual frequency with which you contact everyone is up to you and there are many options and suggestions available. It appears that the business standard is everyone on your list should be contacted every 90 days. But you are likely not a businessperson if you are reading this so this may be too frequent to actually be able to keep up with and that is absolutely fine. Instead, prioritize your primary contacts and at least reach out to them every 90 days because they are the people you want to build the strongest relationship with.
When it comes to the rest of your contacts, just make sure to reach out at least once a year. In fact, if it helps you remember, connect with them over Christmas or on their birthday. These are easy to remember dates (or at least easy to track in the case of birthdays) and are often times when people want to hear from others.
One last tip for frequency: encourage two-way communication. You do not have to be the one initiating conversation all the time. If you are, you are going to feel worn down pretty quickly when trying to communicate with so many people so frequently. By inviting your connections to reach out to you anytime, or follow you on social media, or call you when they are in town, you are reducing the number of time you have to initiate the conversation.
Reflect on Your Career Network
Every so often, and by that I mean at least twice a year, reflect on your progress of building and maintaining your career network. Did you meet your goal? If so, what will your next goal be? Who helped you most towards your goal and who can help you moving forward? Who do you want to hear more or less from? Use all of this information to update your tracking document and re-evaluate how to move forward. By doing this you will ensure that your career network is set up to provide you and your contacts with the most value.
Networking Success is up to You
When it comes to career networking, you do not have to be a name or business card collector who no one likes nor a hot-shot businessman who only needs to make one call to get what he needs. However, you should still have a network and starting one while you are still young is the best way to get ahead in your career.
You need to know why you want a network, who you can contact, how to contact them, and how to keep your career network going. This article should help you do just that; however, if you want a little more guidance, we invite you to participate in our FREE email course. In the course we go into more detail, give you extra resources to help you get started with your network, and we check-in with you to make sure you are actually implementing the suggestions along the way. To take advantage of the course, sign up below.